The phrase, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is probably the one of the most misinterpreted phrase in the
New Testament. Most people read this and think that Jesus is saying, "Give Caesar your money and give God your soul.
" In this article, I'll attempt to show you that the above interpretation of Jesus' statement is not a correct
interpretation and that Jesus was actually saying that is was not lawful (at that time and place) to give
Caesar anything. Let us look at this scripture more closely. Pay close attention to each verse.
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them. And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me? Show me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
Things to think about
1. The Pharisees knew the law. They knew that Jesus knew the law. Why did they think that they could have Jesus arrested, by His answer, if it was [Biblically] lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?
2. If Jesus said, "Yes, Give Caesar your money..." and nobody "laid hands" on Him, nor did the crowd leave Him, then that wasn't a very good trap they set for Him.
3. And why did they marvel at this answer? Why did they hold their peace? (Whatever Jesus said to them was more of a shocker than "Yes, Give Caesar your money and God your soul.")
Other Things to Keep in Mind
1. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar". This statement clearly shows us that just because a government "passes laws" does not make these laws "lawful".
2. "And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King." [Luke 23:2]
3. When Jesus spoke in front of mixed company (with sinners), he did not speak so that everyone could understand. [Matthew 13:10-17]
4. Government tax collectors are always mentioned in context of sinners.
*And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" [Luke 18:13 NKJV].
*...Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you." [Matthew 21:31 NKJV]
*"Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. [Luke 15:1 NKJV]
*And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. [Matthew 18:7 NKJV]
(Also see Matthew 5:46-47, 9:11, 11:19, 21:32, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:30, 7:34)
Two thousand years ago, Israel and many other countries, were under Roman control. The Jews that followed Jesus did not like being an occupied people. They did not like the idea that Caesar made claim of ownership of all land, people, and even their holy buildings. They did not like the idea of paying tribute to an occupying country.
The Romans allowed the Jews to continue using their currency to trade, but they had to pay taxes to the Roman Empire using Roman coins.
They knew that only God can make laws and that the Israelite kings could only administer God's Law without adding to it, nor taking away from it.
They knew that all things in heaven and in earth belong to God.
"Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it." (Deuteronomy 10:14 NKJV).
Obviously, when you set a trap for someone, you don't want to give that person an easy way out. When the Pharisees "took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk" so they might "lay hands on him", they knew if Jesus said that it is not lawful, that the Roman soldiers would arrest Jesus, and throw Him in prison. If he said, "Yes, it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar", then the Jews would know that he was not the Messiah and at least leave him, or maybe even stone him. The Pharisees knew the law better than most anyone in those days. They already knew the correct answer, before they asked. They knew that Jesus and his followers knew the correct answer. They knew that Jesus would tell his followers that it was not lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. Again, the reason they asked the question is not to learn the answer. The reason they asked the question was so they could "deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor" (What is more logical? Jesus getting arrested for teaching people to pay taxes, or for teaching people NOT to pay taxes?)
Jesus Answers the Pharisees
"And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace."
Notice that Jesus did not define what belonged to Caesar. He did not say that the coin in question belonged to Caesar. He also did not define what belonged to God. He didn't need to. That was defined many times in the Old Testament. (The Pharisees and His followers knew the Old Testament. The Roman soldiers did not.) "Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it." (Deuteronomy 10:14 NKJV). "The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." [Psalm 24:1]. That leaves nothing left for Caesar. Also, Haggai 2:8 states "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts." [The coin mentioned in this verse was the denaruis (silver)]
Why the Pharisees Marveled at His Answer, and held their Peace.
Remember, the Pharisees "took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk" so they might "lay hands on him". They thought they had a real good trap. They did not think it was even possible to get out of it. If Jesus said, "Yes", his followers would at least leave him. If He said, "No", the Roman soldiers would take him. Then Jesus answered the Pharisees in a nature that was typical of Jesus. His answer was so clear to everyone that knew the Old Testament (the Jews) but, just as it is not clear to many people today, it was not clear enough to the Roman soldiers for them to arrest Him. (Jesus was not afraid of getting arrested, but He was not going to let Satan decide on when and where.)
After Jesus basically told the people that Caesar should get nothing, His followers probably cheered. His followers probably increased in number after that statement. The Pharisees were in awe, because they thought they had Jesus in their "check-mate trap", but Jesus came out of the trap unharmed and with the Pharisees' queen. After seeing that their wits are no match for Jesus' in this game, they "tipped over their king" and held their peace.
The Superscription on the "Penny"
The Roman coin in the above verses, had, on the front, a graven image of Tiberius Caesar and read, "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus" and the other side would read, "Pontius Maximus" which means "High Priest" or "Chief Priest". After knowing this, I believe that it is very questionable that Jesus would even possess such a coin. Maybe that is why He called them hypocrites and then asked to see a penny. It is possible that He did this for at least two reasons. One, is that it he did not have a Roman coin on him. And the second reason was to expose their hypocrisy and validate his accusation. In no other verse in the Bible did Jesus accuse someone of being a hypocrite without showing them the reason for His accusation. (Matthew 7:5; 15:7-9; 16:3-4; 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27-28, 29; Mark 7:6-9: Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15;) When they produced the coin, it showed everyone the reason for Jesus' accusation.